Learning the Blues Scale

Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at Pentatonic scales, especially the well-known Minor Pentatonic scale. This week it’s the turn of the Hexatonic scale! Blues scales are used in, well, the blues! The blues (and ragtime) helped to shape Jazz music, and helped develop a number of other modal scales that almost appeared as if from nowhere! These will be investigated in future articles.

There are two type of Blues scales, the minor and the major. The Minor Blues scales is the most common and familiar and is generally referred to as simply the ‘Blues Scale’, without the minor!

The Blues Scale is a minor pentatonic scale with a chromatic passing note between the 4th and the 5th:

The added b5 is sometimes referred to as the ‘blue’ note.

It is this note that causes the scale to deviate from the “Western classical’ tradition of music which is based on the Major scale (and minor), none of which have the b5 or a chromatic run. This ‘passing’ note adds a certain amount of tension and release to sound of the music and has shaped a whole new branch of music. It provides the foundation for a lot of modern popular style.

The Major Blues Scale has a more upbeat and lively feel. It is often found in Ragtime and Rockabilly. It can be thought of as a mode of the Minor Blues scale where you make the b3 the root note, or as a Major Pentatonic with a b3 added:

This added b3 is what gives it the ‘blues’ feel.

The Blues scales are often used in improvising, and the Minor Blues Scale can be used for the entirety of a 12 bar blues progression.

Here is a simple 12 bar blues progression in E for you to have a jam over:

E Blues Backing Track

Grab that E Minor Blues Scales and wail away!!!

Until next time, work hard and have fun!!

-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist

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